Historie – Otázky – Problémy

The Enlightened “Remedy” of Religious Life and its Limitations


Abstract: The author opens his essay by outlining the principal characteristics of the negative approach of enlightened Catholicism towards outward demonstrations of traditional Baroque piety in the Czech lands. He blames the launch of a new system of religious values which the enlightenment created for causing this negative attitude towards Baroque religious life. The earlier concern with the salvation of one’s own soul, the basis of Baroque piety, was replaced with charitable welfare on the Enlightenment scale of values. The author used a book entitled Bildergalerie katholischer Mißbräuche by the Viennese publisher Josef Richter to describe particular elements of Baroque piety that adherents of the Enlightenment disliked and desired to change. The book acquainted the broadest sections of population with the sense and motives of the reforms of Joseph II.
The author further deals with the practical implications of Joseph’s moves regarding religious life and the introduction of specific reforms that affected the believers. The enlightened reforms had certain limitations, which lessened their potency. The author maintains that these limitations lay in the speed of implementation of the reforms, the underestimation of existing religious traditions, a conservative approach towards the Church in particular settings (e.g. the monastic and rural milieu), the reformers’ narrow and one-sided focus on property issues, and last but not least, the relatively short period during which these reforms enjoyed full support from the ruler and the government.
The author concludes his article with the verification of general features of Enlightenment reforms on a particular example, i.e. the abolition of religious brotherhoods, which were invalidated by Joseph II in 1783. He demonstrates how this event stumbled over the above-mentioned limitations. In an attempt to restore the brotherhoods in the early 1830s it became clear that despite the clergy’s Josephine education, the principles of enlightened piety, which had led to liquidation of the brotherhoods, had almost disappeared from the clergy’s minds fifty years later. Thus the author adds insufficient transformation of the thinking of clergymen to the above-mentioned limitations of enlightened reforms.

Key words: Religious life, religious values, josephism, Baroque piety, 18th century criticism